NPF: BRAZILIAN BEACH BLAST

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 29th, 2014 by Ed

You all are well aware that I took a vacation recently. It is always difficult to return from vacation and dive back into the not-nearly-as-nice routine of our working lives. I had a particularly good time despite subpar weather on my trip, so the shift back to reality has been unpleasant.

At least I thought I had a good time. When I find myself trying to explain what I did for eight days it doesn't seem terribly exciting. Tell people you are going to Brazil and their first reaction is likely to be, "Oh, Rio! So fun!" or something else with strong undertones of Sex, Drugs, and Party Time. Alas, those things were absent from my trip (and life, but that's another story). Instead I took a lot of pictures of buildings and waterfalls. I know, I know. I am so exciting.

I have this recurring problem where I enjoy things until I have to attempt to explain them to other people and then when I see or hear the words coming out of my brain I think, well actually this doesn't sound like fun at all. This sounds like something a very boring person would do, perhaps due to some life-threatening allergy to fun or fundamental ignorance about how the concept of fun works. In short, vacation was fun but at 35 I still can't get comfortable with how lame my definition of "fun" is.

Yes, I know. Save yourself the trouble of rushing to the comments to First World Problem me. I realize that my life is very easy, I do not lack for any necessities, and I can afford things like vacations to other hemispheres. It is an opportunity that many people both here in the U.S. and around the world never get. I get it. Despite that, I feel like having Actual Fun, the kind that people who understand the concept of enjoying life have, would be good for me. It might even make me less of a wet blanket all the time not to mention that I might experience strange feelings like…well, not happiness, but maybe Not Misery for a while. It is not, however, in my DNA. I know a lot of things but how to be fun is not one of them.

So, hello. My name is Ed and I'm a no-fun-a-holic. I'm here today because I went to Brazil on the itinerary of an elderly woman not unlike your grandmother. If I can't learn to be fun at this point I might settle for not talking myself out of it when I manage to do whatever embarrassing things I find enjoyable. On the plus side, it was really interesting to have nobody to talk to for a week in an entirely different country! Gotta change things up every so often, variety being the spice of life and all. So that was exciting.

It's good to be back.

CANNED HEAT

Posted in Rants on May 27th, 2014 by Ed

In any mixed group of people of different nationalities it is only a matter of time and drinks until the token American will be asked to shed light upon the aspects of his homeland that foreigners find the most baffling. This is eminently fair; payback, if you will, for all of the times a group of Americans have asked the one Japanese person if everyone eats sushi every day and does karate, or the German is asked to defend his fatherland's somewhat checkered history since…Charlemagne, I guess.

The last time I visited Canada, a group of people explained to me why the U.S. healthcare system is idiotic as though this had not yet occurred to me, and that if only I brought back to America an explanation of our faulty logic we could finally fix the broken system. In my more recent experience abroad the topics were not quite as esoteric. Three times in a single week, though, I was asked to explain why everyone in America carries a gun.

It is hard to explain U.S. gun culture to a non-American. Especially as an outsider. Six capirinhas in, I cleared my throat and prepared to break new ground in advancing understanding among peoples.

First – and in any conversation about guns you really, really owe it to your audience to hammer this point home at the outset – the percentage of Americans who own guns is actually declining. Our country has more guns – nearly 300 million – than ever before yet the share of households that own a gun has fallen steadily during this Gun Boom (see what I did there). Simply put, everyone in America does not have a gun. America has a relatively small, possibly even shrinking, number of people who each own a large and growing number of guns. It's a bimodal distribution (note: do not explain it this way to normal people) with peaks at Zero Guns and Shitload of Guns.

So the first thing to understand about American gun culture is that you're either in or you're out. And if you're in, you are all in. Go big or go home, son. Back to this point in a minute.

The second thing to try to communicate is that unlike most nations, we do have firearm ownership written into our Constitution. What this means is that individuals have a right to own a gun. It does not mean, despite what the NRA has successfully argued, that one has a right to own any and all types of guns or to do with those guns whatever one's heart desires. The 2nd Amendment may tell us we can be armed, but it does not establish your right to own a .50 cal heavy machine gun and to carry it (supposing you could) into a Federal courthouse. This, I tried to explain, is where the left and right diverge.

Increasingly, though, the "no restrictions or regulations of any kind ever because freedom" argument has become the status quo. This is due almost singly to the relentless work of the NRA. Foreigners know "NRA" when they hear it but often do not know what it is. It is an interest group, and easily the most consistently successful one, I said. At this juncture my own ignorance was a roadblock, because I do not know much about how interest groups function in other democracies despite knowing a good deal about interest groups in the U.S. In most other political systems corruption and influence-peddling tend to be a little more brash, unvarnished, and Mafiaesque (think Russia, for example). In the U.S., however, with its pretensions of a free, transparent, and equitable democratic system requires the going through of many motions. Interest groups and elected officials must engage in these ritualized war dances and secret handshakes and coded oaths to arrange political exchanges with the facade of plausible deniability. Why no, my supplemental rule on that bill had nothing to do with the $100,000 campaign donation I received. It was a mere coincidence.

Any moderately politically interested foreigner grasps this readily. What might not be obvious, though, is the NRA's grand illusion – the Big Lie that it is a group that represents firearm owners. On paper and in mission statement this may be true. In practice, the NRA represents gun manufacturers. In furtherance of the gun industry's desire to sell a fuckton of guns to the declining percentage of Americans who own guns and who happen to already own a fuckton of them, the NRA must constantly fan the flames of fear that They are coming to Take Your Guns. Never mind that Congress hasn't passed a consequential restriction on gun ownership since the Great Depression. The impending threat looms large that Obama and Clinton and Liberal Judges and Saul Alinsky and the tree huggers and Ed Begley and the Comintern are always coming to take them away imminently so the only logical thing for a freedom loving Patriot to do is rush out and buy, buy, buy. Get them now while you still can, fellow Minutemen!

Are people really so stupid that they fall for this ruse? And fall for it repeatedly?

Well, yes. I ask by way of answering, "Have you ever been to Florida? Go to Florida sometime. Walk into a chain buffet restaurant at 3 PM on a weekday and start talking to people about guns. Or about anything, really. And that this kind of cheap hucksterism works will no longer be a mystery. Watch Fox News for 15 minutes, remind yourself that an appreciable minority of Americans take it seriously, and suddenly the NRA Theory doesn't seem so far fetched.

"So to answer your question, we don't all have guns. In fact Canada has more guns per capita than we do. I guess our gun owners are just…dumber? More malleable, if we're being polite? Anyway," I said, scanning for a valid target to redirect this line of questioning and finding two erudite German backpackers, "don't you all wear leiderhosen? And where do you hide all the Nazi gold?"

NPF: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 22nd, 2014 by Ed

Fun fact: the original title of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen was First Impressions, which the publisher changed after concluding that it was insufficiently snappy.

My first impression of Brazil is that it shares an important characteristic with the American South: a tendency to consider things that make no sense charming or otherwise integral to the character of the place. Things open and close randomly, websites contain no information for the prospective traveler (and what information is posted is unlikely to be accurate or timely), and there is little expectation of logic applying to anything. For the longtime resident, the fact that Brasilia has no addresses is not relevant. For a visitor – and certainly a city of 2 million that fancies itself a Major City should expect those, right? – the lack of information is goddamn baffling.

A brief example: the city has an extensive bus system. There are literally thousands of them. They are everywhere and everyone rides them. What the bus system does not have, however, is a map. I am serious. I have asked people who have lived here their whole lives, tourists who have been here for weeks and months, police, random strangers, bus drivers…nobody has ever seen a map. I went to the main bus station and the offices of the transit department, and it appears to have never occurred to them to have a map. So, for example, the airport website can tell me that buses 102 and 102.1 go to the airport. However, I have no way of knowing what routes those two buses travel on. Which stops can I wait at to get them? What major streets do they use? Nobody knows. You just have to know.

A minor complaint from a stuck up American traveler, right? The problem is that this city is weeks away from hosting as many as half a million foreign visitors for the World Cup. Brazil seems to be confused about whether it is a major industrialized country or a developing third world one. If I went to the Sudan I would expect no information to be available about anything. However, if I went to Germany, Australia, Japan, Singapore, or Mexico I would expect at least a half-useful paper map if not information online. Obviously Brazil would prefer to think of itself like the latter group of countries and not like Sudan. But the little things (and there are a lot of little issues like this) set it apart.

That is my first impression. Brazil is an incredible place with first world wealth (and the accompanying first world inequality) and some third world habits. I am excited to see more of it.

And before you use the comments to explain to me like I am retarded how I should have found information about public transit, don´t. This was a multi-month project involving several people including a research librarian who can find every piece of information about you online in about 90 seconds. And nobody found anything because, as I discovered when I arrived, there is no information to find. You just have to know.

CUANTO

Posted in Quick Hits on May 21st, 2014 by Ed

George W. Bush is in his office. A stone-faced aide enters and says, `I have bad news, sir. Three Brazilian soldiers were killed this morning in Afghanistan.´ Bush goes pale and asks with hesitation, `How many is a brazillion?´

Stay frosty for a bit longer; typing on a Portuguese keyboard, an iPhone, or a knock-off $49 tablet all present unique yet approximately equally unpleasant challenges.

Thank god I did not come here for the nightlife, as Brasilia appears to have none.

POLICE STORY

Posted in Quick Hits on May 19th, 2014 by Ed

Admit it the Black Flag songis in your head now.

Turns out that updating in an airport on a Samsung tablet is pretty cumbersome, so your continued patience is appreciated. As we wait with bated breath for my compelling tale of thr biggest asshole cop I have ever encountered, please use the comment section to regale us with your own Worst Cop Stories.

NPF: PROGRAMMING NOTES

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 16th, 2014 by Ed

Whenever some friend or acquaintance starts a blog and asks for advice I give them what I consider to be the only useful advice relevant to the task: you have to keep posting. Most people have short attention spans and little willingness to put a lot of effort into something that won't pay off very quickly (excluding exceptional cases) or very lavishly (few people actually make money doing this). So they start a blog and post daily for a couple weeks. Then a few times per week for another month. Then once per month. Then they realize that they haven't accumulated thousands of loyal readers in a few months so they quit.

That never works. You have to post a lot. And you have to keep doing it for an extended period of time until someone notices and cares enough to come back for more.

Several years ago I went on vacation and feared that if I went a week without posting anything I would come back and have zero readers, leaving me to start over from square one. Fortunately I found that after years of regular updates a one-week hiatus won't bother anyone. Hopefully that is still true. On Monday I'm going to Brazil for 8 days. Don't worry, I won't be doing anything fun. However I do hope that I have more interesting ways to pass the time than blogging. I might not, but if I do there will obviously be a lull in the content for a few days. I hope you'll understand and not disappear for good. The posts have been slightly less regular than usual for the past few weeks as I've had a lot of balls in the air (giggle) lately. Soon I'll be back to having nothing better to do, so stick around.

I've pre-scheduled a post or two for next week so the updates won't stop entirely. As a bonus, I'm sure that traveling to another country will leave me full of gems by the time I return. I'm only half-kidding. As always, thanks for reading.

CULTURE OF LIFE

Posted in Quick Hits on May 14th, 2014 by Ed

(Editor's note: It's finals week, the Stanley Cup playoffs, and right before I leave the country for eight days on vacation. Please forgive the brevity of this and the previous post. I'll be back to having nothing better to do soon enough, don't you worry.)

I'm glad that other people are starting to talk about the Fox News crowd's legitimately disturbing habit of killer worship. Sean Hannity's obsession with convicted murderers who kill the "right" people is enough to wonder if a chat with a court-appointed psychiatrist is in order.

It may be the case that providing property owners certain proportional latitude in defending their possessions is an unhappy legal necessity. It is also the case that elevating property owners who do take advantage of those legal provisions to the status of folk hero and celebrity is a direct and dangerous promotion of a culture of death, a worldview in which murderous bravado is favored over a "bleeding heart" — that is, sympathy for other people. That a category of celebrity is swiftly developing around property owners who, acting on some application or misapplication of law, end human life is as morbid a symptom as any, and suggests a barely veiled malice brewing in the shadows of American conservatism. If Sean Hannity and his colleagues have any real interest in the promotion of an authentic culture of life, they'll abandon this bizarre obsession with legal latitude for killing, which has that distinct flavor of savoring a twisted loophole. Until then, they will remain responsible for the role models they promote to their viewership, and the deathly culture they create.

The extreme popularity of Hannity and his ilk reflects, of course, the fact that large numbers of Americans – say, the kind who wait in line to get George Zimmerman's autograph – subscribe to the same mentality. They don't see gun ownership as a potential means of "protecting their family" in some worst case scenario that they hope, pray, and endeavor to avoid. They really, really hope the opportunity to shoot someone arises. Or, as the recent Hannity Hero shows, they manufacture the opportunity when it doesn't arise quickly enough.

I live in a legitimately unsafe neighborhood. The most recent shooting two weeks ago happened about 100 feet from my front door. Most of the houses in the neighborhood have been burglarized at some point in the last decade. In two years I've thought perhaps once or twice about the prospect of someone breaking in. I lock the doors and sleep with my phone so I could call 9-1-1 if necessary. Other than that, it doesn't really cross my mind. Like a normal person, I don't spend a lot of time talking or thinking about people committing crimes against me even though statistically I should be more concerned about it than some gun-stroking old white guy who lives in Pigs Knuckle County or some suburb with nonexistent crime.

The first time someone says they need to be armed to protect their family I think, that's poor logic (statistics show that a gun in the home is far more likely to end up being used against someone you know than a home invader) but a sensible enough assumption. The next fifty times they bring it up I think, gee, you seem to think about this happening an awful lot. It suggests that either one is paranoid and terrified of the world in general or…kind of looking forward to being able to shoot at another human being. The more you expect something to happen, the more quickly you're bound to jump to the conclusion that it is happening.

These are the people I envision when I listen to media personalities hero-worshiping the Castle Defender archetype. Such people are heroes only to people who really look forward to being able to kill someone without consequences but lack the balls to join the Army.

REDISTRIBUTION

Posted in Quick Hits on May 13th, 2014 by Ed

Continue to enjoy yesterday's post for a bit longer. If you need new reading material, check out this (very) long New Yorker piece on the "reform" of the Newark public school system. I used to think that the education reform industry was a domestic version of the NGO/Foreign Aid industry – that is, a massive conveyor belt for transferring billions of dollars from "foundations" to "consultants" with the occasional nickel trickling down to the plebes the system purports to be helping. Then I saw Waiting for Superman and I became more convinced. Then I read this article and I'm comfortable stating it as a fact in the future.

It's all there – the colonialism, the paternalism, and the cloying sense that what These People really need is a good dose of white upper-middle class values and the free market is the best way to deliver them.

MY STRUGGLE, OR: HOW I LEARNED THAT WHITE PRIVILEGE DOESN'T EXIST

Posted in Rants on May 11th, 2014 by Ed

Recently the media were collectively wise enough to republish a college freshman's op-ed in a student newspaper because history has proven that 19 year old white kids usually have the most important and interesting things to say. A monstrously ugly child named Tal Fortgang, which I pause to remind you I did not make up, went from the typical Princeton freshman to a guest on major news networks overnight. OK, so it helps if you're telling them what they want to hear. But say the right things and you too can go from masturbation enthusiast to Hannity guest in the blink of an eye, teens!

Fortgang has become the planet's leading authority on white privilege, which is remarkable given that he does not appear to have the slightest idea what the phrase means. His opus is basically the typical "Several generations ago my family was pretty poor, therefore I deserve what I have" argument that is second only to drunken copulation in popularity on college campuses.

Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland, leaving their mother and five younger siblings behind, running and running until they reached a Displaced Persons camp in Siberia, where they would do years of hard labor in the bitter cold until World War II ended…Or maybe it’s the privilege my grandmother had of spending weeks upon weeks on a death march through Polish forests in subzero temperatures, one of just a handful to survive, only to be put in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she would have died but for the Allied forces who liberated her and helped her regain her health when her weight dwindled to barely 80 pounds.

Perhaps my privilege is that those two resilient individuals came to America with no money and no English, obtained citizenship, learned the language and met each other; that my grandfather started a humble wicker basket business with nothing but long hours, an idea, and an iron will—to paraphrase the man I never met: “I escaped Hitler. Some business troubles are going to ruin me?”

Tal, I think I finally get it. White privilege is a sham. Let me share a bit of my own story to drive home your point.

My grandfather was a humble turd miner, digging in the hard, feculent ground for 18 hours every day across the fertile turd deposits of eastern Poland. Every day he walked uphill several miles to work, and then because of the way the planet rotates he also had to walk uphill to get back home. He and his wife, who cleaned toilets with her tongue because she could not afford a brush, lived under a bridge and had nine children, none of whom survived. Every day they ate a single bean cut into quarters, half for breakfast and half for dinner. They also had a dog who was poor.

That was my father's family.

On my mother's side, my grandfather licked the mosses off of damp rocks for sustenance when he was forced off of his land by the Potato Famine and also by Hitler. Then he fought Hitler and his Nazis and beat them even though he was so poor that his rifle had no barrel because he had to pawn it for a potato. This brave man beat up Hitler with a rifle that, when you think about it, was really just a piece of wood. Then he met and married my grandmother who was dancing for pennies in the poorest part of Latvia. They realized that in Latvia there was no freedom because of Hitler and communism, so they came to the United States and humbly opened a very humble business making low-grade solid lubricants from rendered street children. It was arduous work since almost to a child, the children resisted being reduced to grease. While they slept they made extra money by doing the whole town's laundry. They never complained about what hard work it was.

All of my grandparents worked hard and sent their children to Harvard Yale State, where they studied hard and got degrees in American Values. They had two children while they were in college and never once asked for any help, which may partially explain why my sister disappeared from the yard one day in 1983. I grew up to be a strong, hard working, respectful lad who knows a few things about life such as when it is not worth it to chase after a van that has just kidnapped your sister.

Why should I have to apologize for anything? Isn't being poor and understanding the value of hard work transmitted genetically, after all? As long as I am the descendant of some people who were not rich assholes, it is impossible for me to be a rich, privileged asshole.

QED.

NPF: DEAR MELISSA McCARTHY

Posted in No Politics Friday on May 9th, 2014 by Ed

If an actress wants to be known as something other than "that fat actress" or to be considered for roles other than what boils down to Female Chris Farley roles in which morbid obesity and slovenliness are the punchline, perhaps that actress should stop accepting roles like this:

I mean, jesus christ. Have a tiny bit of self-respect. You're rich. You would think that, like I argued long ago regarding Chris Tucker's repeated choice to play roles that are essentially just black stereotypes, you have enough fucking money at some point that you could say "No, I'm not doing that" without any negative career repercussions. Even McCarthy supporters (not being in the target audience of her films, I know/care very little about her) are begging you to cut this shit out.

Oh and here's the kicker: the film advertised in the above trailer was written by McCarthy's husband. If ever there was an opportunity to create a role that was comedic but not completely, soul-crushingly degrading this would seem to be it.

"Honey, I'm sick of playing fat slobs."

"That makes sense, how about we do a project together where the humor is not based on you being a fat slob?"

*Clink glasses*

Being an actor is hard and being an actress is harder. I always, always look the other way if some struggling young performer takes a what-the-fuck role in order to pay the bills and break into the industry. But once these people are established, rich, and successful there is just no excuse. Peter Dinklage may have played an elf in 2002 when he was a nobody, but he appears to have enough self-worth to turn down the leprechaun roles now that he is a star. There's no reason that rich-ass Melissa McCarthy can't turn down a movie or two that embarrasses and exploits her. Instead, she and her husband are teaming up to write and cash in on even more lowest common denominator Fat Slob vehicles. She has nobody but herself to blame at this point and anyone who feels sorry for her is being conned. As another reviewer said, "She's allowed herself to get typecast in the worst way, and Tammy is the nail in that coffin." The "struggling artist who needs to pay the bills" excuse expired long ago. If you choose to continue doing these Fatsploitation roles, they will keep being offered. If you don't want to, try saying no until something better comes along. Unlike most people, Melissa McCarthy can actually afford to do that.